Coursebook face-off - Matt Done
Whether you’re a religious adherer to course books, or whether you regard them with downright contempt,
the reality is that all EFL teachers have called upon them at some point or another. They’re safe, they’re
reassuring, and they eliminate a lot of the guesswork that might exist if they didn’t.
We all have our favourites. The units we know back to front, the tape scripts we could recite in our sleep,
and the pictures we’ve seen a million times. But what makes one particular series any better than another?
For the purpose of this article, I’m pitting two established series up against each other in an attempt to assess
their strengths, their weaknesses, and who they might suit the most. In the blue corner, it’s ‘Cutting edge’, and
in the red corner, ‘Language to Go’.
What works well?
Cutting Edge is one of Longman’s better known products and is often a popular choice among teachers.
At first glance, it’s easy to understand why. If resource books were people, then Cutting Edge would be the
joke-telling, vivacious friend that you’d always want at a party. It’s bursting with colourful illustrations and
has no shortage of language, be it grammar or lexis. Without question, this is not an insipid course book.
One of the most appealing factors about Cutting Edge is the importance it gives to ‘real life’ English. Most
units have a section dedicated to practical phrases that students are first exposed to, then encouraged
to notice and practice. Whether it’s expressing agreement or disagreement, making requests in different
situations, or interrupting politely, you’re likely to find a segment dedicated to it in this book.
Another lovely feature is one which they call the ‘wordspot’ – a collocations activity that really adds to the
sense of thoroughness. Common words are presented along with numerous collocations, and students are
given a chance to practice using them.
What could be better?
While the sheer volume of language contained in Cutting Edge is surely a good thing, modules are seemingly
never ending, and have a slightly cluttered appearance to them. The vast array of different activities and
illustrations may appeal to some, but may give others a headache.
Also, while grammar is extracted from contexts quite neatly, the grammar banks at the back of the book are
somewhat overwhelming, often with two pages of rules dedicated to each point. It’s exhaustive, and you’ll
find what you’re looking for, but the weight of it might put certain learners (and teachers!) off.
Who would it suit most?
Teachers with a bit of experience. Those who know how to adapt, select, and reject. As far as students go,
this book would probably work for most. Also, the average ‘two-weeker’ hoping to learn a little every day English
is certainly likely to go home with a sense of accomplishment, given the practical language provided.
Language to go:
What works well?
Another member of the Longman family is Language to Go – a book which also carries the dubious honour
of being the first course book I ever taught from. What strikes you first about this LTG is the uncluttered,
neat appearance of each unit. While Cutting Edge bombards you with a plethora of colour and tasks, Language
to Go’s lessons are set out simply and with minimum fuss. This has the effect of making it a very accessible
book, with teachers able to give a unit a quick ‘once over’ in seconds. I often find that simple is best, and
Language to go really does excel in this respect. The activities are presented in a logical, linear manner, with
each continuing from and building on the last.
Another positive aspect of LTG is its language focus. The book uses ‘self-discovery’ as the main principle for
increasing grammar awareness, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if the teacher does his job,
then there should be little struggle, as the self-discovery tasks are crystal clear and straight to the point.
What could be better?
Although certainly not a dull course book, LTG is perhaps a little drier than some of its counterparts. Also,
despite the presence of certain units dedicated to practical English, there is not as much as in Cutting Edge.
The units, while being straightforward and uncomplicated, may appear to lack a little meat at times (though
these are supplemented with further activities in the teacher’s book). To continue our previous analogy, LTG
would be a dependable friend, but hardly one that would take you out on a wild night of joy and laughter.
Who would it suit?
Novice teachers would certainly find the direct approach presented in this book appealing. If you’re called to
replace a lesson at the last minute and are at a loss, you could do much worse than reach for this book. As far
as students go, it would be advisable for the teacher to try one ‘guided discovery’ task to see if the students are
up to it. If they are, then this book will certainly help them achieve greater grammar awareness with minimum